Traveling in Albania: 13 Things to Know Before you go
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Before I traveled to Albania, I did research like you totally should do but even after getting there I learned more things by experience, which is often the case.
Although Albania has been in existence for a long time, it has been in the process of reinventing itself after breaking ties with the Soviet Union in 1961 and the 40 years of communism ending in 1990.
It now enjoy a market economy, democracy and was the first of the Southeastern European countries to join NATO.
I hope to share some things I picked up along the way that will help your travels to Albania smoother and even more enjoyable than mine. It is definitely a country worth visiting!
So here are 13 things you should know before traveling in Albania
1. They are the Kindest people
The people of Albania are incredibly kind. I didn’t encounter many that could speak English but even still, they tried to help.
My friends and I stayed at a hotel on the beach. Everyone we encountered was helpful. As we stopped by the local markets to get drinks or snacks, the employees were helpful.
We were in a fairly touristy area at first so there wasn’t as much interaction with locals but at the end of our trip we stayed a couple nights in Tirana. There everyone was so helpful and kind. I loved these people so much!
2. Safety in Albania
Is it safe to travel in Albania? I never felt unsafe. I never felt oogled. I wasn’t hit on or taken advantage of. Obviously anywhere you go, you can be pick pocketed or pick up a sickness. But I never felt unsafe. Even as I walked the streets alone.
There are these lovely sidewalks in Tirana that are barricaded from the street for protection and in many places they have amazing tree coverage. SO even when it is hot outside it feels so much nicer in the shade.
But beyond that, one of the things I found interesting is that in so many places that feel safe the US government will still often have a terrorism caution on the travel.state.gov website. There was no such caution for Albania.
There is a caution for rural areas with regard to drug crimes but be smart, aware and have common sense as this can be anywhere! So go and enjoy!
3. Is the Water ok to drink?
Actually, it’s not recommended. Some rural places where it is natural water coming from the mountains it is ok but many places the tap water has really high levels of chlorine.
What is more interesting is that it isn’t consistent throughout the country. It is best to always check with the locals and do what they are doing.
That being said there are a few water companies that are better than others. According to some research that I did, these are the best ones to get water from when in the market:
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If you have heard of them and are ready to buy, you can purchase here.
4. Transportation troubles
Transportation isn’t up to the European standard by any means yet. They are working on it but it can be a difficult situation.
Transportation between towns is difficult because not every travel agency sets up all the same services. You may have to wander from travel agency to travel agency to try and find the one that will be able to provide you with a bus to where you want to go.
Sometimes, especially in a rural area, you will find yourself with no mode of transportation but an unmarked taxi. If you find yourself in that situation, make sure you take a photo of the driver’s face and the license plate and send them to someone in the unfortunate case that something happens.
Often them knowing you are aware and have taken steps for safety will make safety all the more true.
That being said, you can also rent a car. I have rented cars in different countries using Discover Cars. You can use this widget to get a quick quote. I definitely recommend getting insurance. Especially for a foreigner with a strong currency, the peace of mind is worth the small fee.
5. Money in Albania
The Albanian dollar is called a Lek. The inflation is quite high here which means prices are really hard for locals but for someone coming in with Euros or USD the prices are quite affordable and your money will go far.
You can use this currency convertor to check the current exchange rate. It is always changing especially in this economy but when we went most things were really reasonable.
The one thing I would say I was surprised by how expensive it was were the taxis. To get from our hotel to Tirana the rate was 3,000-4,000 lek, which at the time was around $30-40.
When I was there, for a quick reference, I typically just moved the decimal two places to the left and had my rough estimate of a price.
6. Interesting things about Albania
My friends and I took a tour to see Kruje, a castle tower and museum dedicated to Skenderbeg, the Albania hero who led the charge in freedom from the Ottoman empire.
On our way, the tour guide told us about Albania. One of the things that shocked me was how few people actually live in the country, less than 3 million.
Because the economy is in such turmoil, many people leave to neighboring countries to have hopes of making more money and being more successful. The young people live in Tirana, the capital and the biggest city by far. Once they are able to, they leave.
Since separating from the former Soviet Union, they have really put a lot of emphasis on building things. Their premise is concrete can’t move and so it is a secure investment. There are some really beautiful buildings and houses to be seen!
Another interesting thing is is one of the least developed countries in southeastern Europe though there is potential both in tourism and the fishing industry. The main economic sector there, however, is agriculture.
It is currently a hidden gem and mostly undiscovered but it won’t always be like this!
7. Beaches and castles and history o, my!
I absolutely loved the sand beaches of Durres. The sand was soft, albeit hot from the sun. It made great sand castles and was pleasant to walk on. Oh how I have missed sand beaches.
The coast of Albania is situated along the Adriatic Sea and is home to some amazing and beautiful beaches.
But beyond the amazing beaches, Albania is home to some pretty cool quirky places, ancient historical sights and beautiful national parks. Don’t just get stuck on the beach because there is so much more to see!
Because Albania is a tall country, you can experience a wide variety of climates. It is predominately Mediterranean and continental climates and has 4 seasons. Of course your warmest areas are along the coast line and the coldest are along the north and east highlands.
Surprising to me (because it is the opposite in Florida where I grew up) they, like Turkey, have most of their precipitation in the winter rather than the summer. And also the Albanian Alps are one of the most humid regions in all of Europe, which again seems backwards for my Florida brain.
While we were there in end of June/beginning of July it was in upper 30’s C (upper 90’s F). It was really hot but thankfully not quite as humid as by the water.
9. The Albanian Language
Granted I am not a linguist and really only know two languages, dabbling in a third, but the Albanian language was so incredibly different. As I looked into it more, it is actually quite a rare and different language. It isn’t kin to any other living language.
What was interesting was that in spite of knowing that, I saw Turkish words, Russian words and Spanish words. I don’t know how it all comes together but it isn’t like anything you have ever heard before.
That being said, here are a few helpful words in the Albanian language with pronunciation:
- Hi! (informal) = Ç’kemi! (chka-MEE)
- Hello! (formal) = Përshëndetje! (pehr-shuhn-DEHT-YEH)
- Please! = Ju lutem! (yoo LOO-tehm)
- Thank you! = Faleminderit! (fah-lehm-meen-DEH-reet)
- You’re welcome. = S’ka përse. (skah purr-SEH)
- Good morning. = Mirëmëngjes. (meer-muhn-JEHS)
- Good afternoon/Good day. = Mirëdita. (meer-DEE-tah)
- Good evening. = Mirëmbrëma. (meerm-BRUH-mah)
- Good night. = Natën e mirë. (NAH-tehn eh MEER)
- Goodbye! = Mirupafshim (meer-oo-PAHF-sheem)
10. International Tirana Airport
In my mind, international airports are large and expansive. This airport, however, was neither of those things. This airport has maybe 8 gates or so. All on the ground floor. You walk to your plane or are transferred by bus if it is a little further away.
So this would make me think I wouldn’t need to get there early to check in…That is also not the case.
This airport doesn’t have designated lines like in many airports so the 8 check-in desks are all busy and a little bit of a hot mess. They also schedule many different flights for the same time which means the airport is packed.
Make sure you get there at least a couple hours early as you never know how long the lines will be.
Also, if you have a baby, you may be able to jump the line. I was with friends who have three littles and I was so glad. We skipped the line for checking in (no online check-in available) as well as the passport/security line. I don’t have kids but I sure appreciated them in that moment even more!
Check out this blog on 17 tips for better international travel.
While Albania is a majority wise Muslim, it is a very secular Islam. They are very tolerant of other religions. There is a significant amount of Jews and Christians living there as well as many atheists.
You will still hear the call to prayer but interestingly you will also see a church right next to a mosque. I really have a value for people being able to choose what they believe and being able to experience the freedom to walk in that belief.
I may not believe the same as you but I think we both get to choose that. It always makes me happy to see people who have chosen something different and choosing to live in harmony. It’s beautiful to see!
Tirana is such a fun and quirky town. I really really loved the covered sidewalks as I explored the city. While we didn’t have long to explore here are a few highlights that are totally worth checking out.
- Proper Pizza – I don’t usually list restaurants especially in Turkey because they are always changing. But this pizza was some of the best pizza I have had and I am avid lover of pizza. They had a good mix of unique and classic flavors and a lovely touch of sesame seeds on the crust. Definitely recommend if you’re in Tirana!
- Dajti Expres – While not technically in Tirana, it is a short bus ride away. We were so excited to go check this out but unfortunately it was closed for safety reasons, which happens regularly. Make sure you call ahead of time to see if it is open.
- Piramida – This, like Tirana and Albania, has a complicated past. It was originally created to honor the country’s dictator Enver Hoxha (ruled from 1944-85) but just 5 years later the plans were changing. There is still much debate on how it should be used. When we were there, it was under construction and it couldn’t be seen.
- National History Museum of Albania – Here you can learn about Albania’s history and see some great exhibits including the most cherished “Beauty of Durres” from the 4th century B.C. Make sure you check times and note that it is closed on Mondays.
- Et’hem Bey Mosque – regardless of your religious preferences, this is a really incredible place to see. It is was completed in early 19th century and closed during communist rule. In 1991, 10,000 people gathered to practice freedom of religion without police intervention and was really a turning point for the country.
- Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral – as we walked by this church I was amazed at the architecture. It is really a cool building and was opened in 2012.
- Skanderbeg Square – this is the center of Tirana. From here all roads radiate out in all directions. If you stay close to here, you will be close to most everything. In the square you will see Skanderbeg’s monument, which actually stands in the same place that a Statue of Stalin once stood.
- Clock Tower – along with many other sites is located off of Skanderbeg Square. You can climb the staircase inside to catch beautiful views of the city but beware it has a narrow staircase. It is also interesting to note that the face of the clock has been changed multiple times before landing on its current face.
If you don’t have a place to stay yet, you can check out some places close by! I have included most of the points of interest on the map. This has both booking.com and VRBO places. I love booking.com especially because of how serious they take their reviews. You can trust the reviews on booking.com.
13. Alcohol in Albania
Raki is a common drink known throughout this part of the world. It is similar to the flavor in Turkey. A liquor flavored with aniseed. If you aren’t familiar, it is that black licorice flavor.
While living in Turkey, I have tried it many times because Turks are so proud of it but those taste buds just haven’t changed yet. Maybe one day they will.
With regard to alcohol they have a pretty wide selection. I really enjoyed the Albanian beer I had. The first time I drank it I was at the top of Kruje. It was incredibly hot and the beer was cold so of course it was lovely.
But even the second time, it was just as nice. I drank Korca. It was a lighter beer but I felt like it had a good flavor and almost tasted like an IPA finish. Definitely worth checking out!
Also while at the hotel in Durres, we were able to get mixed drinks and beers from the market just around the corner. They had a really good bottled cosmopolitan that I liked.
That sure feels like a whirlwind but maybe I am simply reliving my time there in Albania.
Also don’t forget to get your travel insurance! I use TravelInsurance.com because I love that I can compare different plans and see how people who actually bought and used them rate them.
Have you traveled to Albania? Did you have a favorite place or a place you’re looking forward to seeing?
Catch you on the next blog.
Is Albania worth a visit?
Most definitely Albania is worth a visit! Especially if you rent a car, you will be able to see a wide variety of places. There are beautiful beaches, stunning national forests, mountains, delicious food and the kindest people.
What is the best month to go to Albania?
It really depends on what you’re looking for but in my opinion April-May and Septebember -October have a solid spring/fall feel. During these times you will avoid the extremes of summer and winter. If you’re really looking to go to the beach end of May to beginning of June would still be a good time as well.
Is albania expensive travel?
It is not. Compared to other European countries, it is one of the most inexpensive places to travel to. The average cost for daily spending also depends on how lux you want to live. Your daily spending can be anywhere from $30 to $100. Here is a good blog post on in depth look at prices in Albania
Do you need a covid test to enter Albania?
As of May 2022 they have suspended all requirements regarding covid for entry. You can stay updated by checking the embassy page for updates.